Cooper discloses Ukraine query on aid freeze: Impeachment update
The House Intelligence Committee heard from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, on the fourth day of public testimony Wednesday in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Sondland testified first, and his opening statement is here. Later in the day, the panel resumed its session to hear from Laura Cooper, the Defense Department’s top official on Russia and Ukraine, and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs. Cooper’s opening statement is here.
Here are the latest developments:
Democrat Says Emails Undercut GOP Defense (7:33 p.m.)
Democrat Eric Swalwell said Cooper’s disclosure about the July 25 inquiry by Ukraine about U.S. aid “destroys two of the pillars of the president’s defense.”
The first pillar was the “no harm, no foul” argument that Ukraine didn’t know the aid was being withheld, Swalwell said. The second was the idea that Trump cares about fighting corruption in Ukraine, he said.
Cooper said that on May 23, the Defense Department certified that Ukraine had met the standard for reducing corruption as required for providing military aid.
“Inexplicably, the president puts a hold on security assistance,” said Swalwell of California.
Republican John Ratcliffe of Texas noted that those emails didn’t specifically mention a hold being placed on the aid. He asked whether Cooper could be certain the Ukrainians’ question was about the freeze.
“I can’t say for certain it was about the hold,” she said. “It’s the recollection of my staff that they likely knew” before a report in Politico on Aug. 28.
Fellow Democrat Mike Quigley of Illinois said the surfacing of the emails underscores why the State Department and other agencies should have to turn over documents requested by House investigators. The Trump administration has refused to do so.
Cooper Discloses Ukraine Query on Aid Freeze (6:19 p.m.)
Cooper disclosed that her staff received two emails from the State Department inquiring about aid to Ukraine on July 25 – the same day of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine.
One email said the Ukrainian embassy in Washington and House Foreign Affairs Committee were asking about “an issue” involving security assistance. The second one said the Ukrainian embassy and the Hill newspaper knew about the aid situation, she said.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said this is the first time anyone has placed Ukrainian knowledge of the hold on security assistance as far back as the same day Trump talked to Zelenskiy.
The July 25 date of Ukrainian knowledge about the freeze is significant because a central argument by Republicans has been that Ukraine didn’t know about the block on funds until much later. Therefore Trump’s demand for investigations couldn’t have been a quid pro quo, GOP lawmakers contend.
Cooper said she doesn’t recall being made aware of the emails at the time. Her staff told her about them after her deposition was made public and they read the transcript, she said.
Cooper Describes Learning of Hold on Aid (6:09 p.m.)
Cooper said she became aware of the hold on funds for Ukraine in July. She said she “made clear” to interagency leaders at a July 31 meeting that there were “only two legal ways” to discontinue the funds, and either one would require notification to Congress. She said she never heard that either alternative was being pursued.
Cooper said she advocated a Cabinet-level meeting with Trump to explain why the aid should go forward.
“Although I heard to attempts to discuss the issue with the president, I never received details about any conversations other than a status update that the hold had not been lifted,” she said.
She said the aid is “critical” for “bolstering Ukraine’s security and deterring Russia.”
Sondland Completely Exonerates’ Trump, Aide Says (4:47 p.m.)
Sondland’s testimony “completely exonerates” Trump of wrongdoing, says a statement from Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.
Sondland’s statement that Trump told him “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo” on Sept. 9 should be the “only takeaway from today’s sham hearing,” Grisham said.
Sept. 9 was the day that lawyers for a whistle-blower notified the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about an “urgent” matter filed with an inspector general.
“In his July 25 call with President Zelenskiy, President Trump did not condition any part of the United States-Ukraine relationship on a quid pro quo,“ the press secretary said.
Sondland Says Trump Would Benefit From Probe (3:48 p.m.)
Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat, lectured Sondland about his forthrightness as it took several tries to get Sondland to say who would benefit from an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden.
Eventually, Sondland offered, “I assume President Trump.”
Maloney then asked what position the demand would put the Ukrainians in.
“A terrible position,” Sondland said. “Obviously, they’re not receiving ultimately what they thought was coming to them, and they’re put in a position that jeopardizes their security.”
Maloney responded, “You might say they’re being asked to give him a personal benefit in exchange for an official act.”
Sondland said he wasn’t in charge of the policy during questioning minutes later by Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi.
“If I had been in charge, I would have asked President Trump to have the meeting without preconditions and the meeting would have occurred a long time ago,” Sondland said. “The president, through Mr. Giuliani, as conveyed through Mr. Giuliani, wanted the investigations.”
Krishnamoorthi got a moment of levity from Sondland by saying, “On October 8 of this year, the president tweeted you were a really good man and a great American.”
“November 8, one month later, he said I hardly know the gentleman,” the lawmaker said.
“Easy come, easy go!” responded Sondland.
Giuliani Rips GOP Lawyer Over His Questions (2:18 p.m.)
Rudy Giuliani criticized the Republicans’ staff lawyer, Steve Castor, for saying that Giuliani had business interests in Ukraine in addition to his representation of Trump.
Castor, while questioning Sondland, said, “Granted, Mr. Giuliani had business interests in Ukraine, correct?”
“Now I understand he did; I didn’t know that at the time,” said Sondland.
Castor mentioned two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have since been indicted in New York on allegations that they hid the source of campaign donations.
Giuliani wrote on Twitter: “Republican lawyer doesn’t do his own research and preparation, and is instead picking up Democrat lies, shame. Allow me to inform him: I have NO financial interests in Ukraine, NONE! I would appreciate his apology.”
Pompeo Stays Silent on Sondland’s Testimony (1:34 p.m.)
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo refused to address an impeachment witness’s testimony putting him at the heart of Trump’s alleged quid pro quo with Ukraine but said he was confident about U.S. policy toward the country.
“I didn’t see a single thing today, I was working – sounds like you might not have been,” Pompeo told reporters in Brussels when asked his response to the testimony from Sondland.
Sondland provided an email exchange putting Pompeo within the loop of getting Ukraine’s president to appease Trump’s demand for investigations into Democrats. Sondland also faulted the State Department for refusing to turn over other documents relevant to the investigation.
Pompeo has repeatedly refused to answer questions about details of the impeachment inquiry, arguing that Democrats have orchestrated a process that’s unfair to the president. He said Wednesday he knew “precisely what American policy was with regards to Ukraine.”
“I’m proud that President Trump led that effort to get our policy on Ukraine right,” Pompeo said. “Our focus at the State Department is making sure we get the policy right, execute it flawlessly.”
Perry Aide Says Sondland Misrepresented Role (1:05 p.m.)
Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s press secretary said Sondland “misrepresented” Perry’s interactions with Rudy Giuliani and the secretary’s instructions from Trump.
“Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the president’s request,“ aide Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement. “No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words Biden’ or Burisma’ ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”
Sondland Can’t Recall Talk Morrison Outlined (12:55 p.m.)
Sondland said he can’t recall telling special envoy Kurt Volker and National Security Council official Tim Morrison that Trump himself instructed that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, not the country’s prosecutor general, must make a public announcement of investigations.
Morrison testified Tuesday that Sondland said on July 26 that this instruction came directly in a telephone call from Trump, that Zelenskiy had to “clear things up” and make the announcement in public.
Sondland said Wednesday he can’t remember, but that he has no reason to dispute that he told them Zelenskiy needed to be the one to make the announcement. Sondland said Trump “never told me directly the aid” was tied to the demand for investigations.
Giuliani Says Sondland is Speculating’ (12:34 p.m.)
Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Sondland’s testimony was speculation based on little contact between the two.
“I came into this at Volker’s request. Sondland is speculating based on VERY little contact. I never met him and had very few calls with him, mostly with Volker,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter, referring to Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine.
“Volker testified I answered their questions and described them as my opinions, NOT demands. I.E., no quid pro quo!”
Giuliani later deleted the tweet.
Sondland testified earlier Wednesday that Trump told him and other U.S. officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine issues, and that they “weren’t happy” that they had to do so.
GOP Questions Sondland on Trump’s Conditions (11:58 a.m.)
A Republican staff lawyer zeroed in on Sondland’s statement that he never heard Trump specifically tie financial aid to a demand that Ukraine conduct investigations.
“The president never told you about any preconditions for the aid to be released?” GOP lawyer Steve Castor asked Sondland. No, Sondland replied, nor did Trump directly tell him about conditions for a White House meeting.
Everything was “funneled through others” including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Sondland said.
“When the president says talk to my personal attorney,” and then Giuliani “makes certain requests or demands, we assume it’s coming from the president,” Sondland said.
“This is speculation, right?” Castor said.
“It was a presumption,” Sondland said. “Two plus two equaled four in my mind” because “the aid wasn’t being released and we weren’t getting anywhere with the Ukrainians.”
Trump Says He Doesn’t Know Sondland Well’ (11:42 a.m.)
Trump attempted to distance himself from Sondland after his European Union ambassador testified that the president directed an effort to compel the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals.
“This is not a man I know well,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House to visit an Apple Inc. factory in Austin, Texas.
Trump nominated Sondland for his European Union post after the Oregon hotelier donated $1 million to the president’s inauguration committee.
The president read excerpts of Sondland’s testimony that had been written on a note pad with a Sharpie. He didn’t take any questions.
Pence Aide Alleges Sondland Lied to Congress (11:38 a.m.)
Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff alleged that Sondland lied to Congress, saying a conversation with Pence that the European Union ambassador related in testimony on Wednesday “never happened.”
“The vice president never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations,” Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short said in a statement.
Pence has maintained that he wasn’t involved in Trump’s alleged scheme to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals. Pence met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sept. 1 in Warsaw, as Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was working with Sondland and other officials to secure an announcement by Zelenskiy of the investigations.
Short’s statement also distanced Pence from Trump, who asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to investigate a discredited allegation that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election via a cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike, and also to investigate Burisma Holdings, a company connected to former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
“Multiple witnesses have testified under oath that Vice President Pence never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any conversation with Ukrainians or President Zelenskiy before, during, or after the Sept. 1 meeting in Poland,” Short said.
Sondland Says Probe Announcement Was Key (10:54 a.m.)
Sondland said Trump wasn’t necessarily insisting that Ukraine carry out the investigations on Burisma and the 2016 election.
“He had to announce the investigations, he didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it,” Sondland said during questioning by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
Later, he stressed the point, saying he never heard “anyone say that the investigations had to start or be completed.”
Schiff sought to show that the White House meeting and military aid amounted to official acts that were being withheld by Trump while the president sought a Ukrainian promise to conduct investigations. An official act would be an element of a charge of bribery of a public official.
“The military aid was also an official act, right?” Schiff said.
Sondland was asked by a Democratic staff lawyer to confirm an embassy aide’s testimony that he overheard Sondland tell Trump over the phone on July 26 that Ukraine’s president “loves your ass.”
“It sounds like something I would say,” Sondland said, drawing a laugh from the audience. “That’s how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four-letter words, three-letter.“
Sondland Confirms Account of Trump Call (9:27 a.m.)
Sondland confirms an account from other witnesses that he called Trump from a restaurant in Kyiv on July 26 but he said he didn’t remember key details. He said he didn’t recall later discussing Joe Biden and his son with David Holmes, the embassy staffer who described the incident.
“I have no reason to doubt their accounts,” Sondland will say in his opening statement. “I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the president’s concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.”
Holmes testified that Sondland called Trump to assure him that the Ukrainian president would commit to “the investigations” that Rudy Giuliani was pushing.
Sondland Says Everyone Was in the Loop’ (9:18 a.m.)
Sondland will say that “everyone was in the loop” on the demand for investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election in exchange for a White House call and a meeting for Ukraine’s president. “It was no secret.”
Sondland will say that among those who got his July 19 email about the demand were Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“We all understood that these pre-requisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements,” Sondland will say.
Sondland Says Pompeo Knew of Demands for Aid (9:10 a.m.)
Sondland also provides an email exchange putting Secretary of State Michael Pompeo within the loop of getting Ukraine’s president to appease Trump’s concerns and “break the logjam” on providing the security funds. That would include setting up a meeting in Warsaw “for a short pull-aside” for Trump to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“I would ask Zelenskiy to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine’s new justice folks are in place (mid-Sept), that Ze should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to Potus and to the US,” Sondland told Pompeo on Aug. 22. “Hopefully, that will break the logjam.”
Pompeo replied “Yes,” according to Sondland’s opening statement.
Sondland Confirms Quid Pro Quo’ for Probe (9:01 a.m.)
Sondland will say, “as I testified previously, Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy.”
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland will say. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”
He will say that he learned in July and August that U.S. security aid to Ukraine was being suspended. Sondland plans to say he was “adamantly opposed” to the suspension and never received a “clear answer” of why it was delayed.
“I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded,” Sondland’s opening statement says. He will say he shared his concerns with the Ukrainians and with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.